The story behind selfless father in viral photo

Rhys Buccat, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 14 2017 12:16 AM | Updated as of Apr 18 2017 01:31 PM

Photo courtesy of Jhunnel Sarajan.

MANILA -- A photo of a scrawny man watching his daughters enjoy a fried chicken meal in a popular fast-food chain recently went viral on social media, garnering thousands of likes and shares from people who were touched by the iconic image that depicts selfless love. 

The photo was taken by Jhunnel Sarajan, a real estate professional, who returned the following day to get more details about the family as people expressed interest to help. 

In his conversation with the man in the photo, Sarajan found out that he is a stroke victim and a single father to his two kids. He also shared details on how to help the family, including the phone number of JR Arebuabo, the man's uncle. 

Meet the selfless father

Photo by Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

ABS-CBN News looked for the man and his two children. We found them in a slum area in Barangay 61 in Tondo, Manila. 

Ryan Arebuabo, the man in the viral photo, lives in a 4-square-meter shanty made of used plywood and rusty iron sheets. Hanging just beside the worn out door is a portrait of Arebuabo's priceless possessions, his two children Rose May and Rose Ann.

Photo by Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The 38-year-old had a stroke attack four years ago, back when he was still selling boiled corn in the neighborhood. He said he never underwent therapy sessions, and his last visit to the doctor was three years ago. 

Due to his condition, Arebuabo was unable to work for months after he was released from the hospital. Half of his body was paralyzed, and he had a hard time speaking. 

Another tragedy also struck him. His wife left him, taking their two kids with her. 

"Dati sabi niya may tindahan daw siya sa Bulacan," Arebuabo told ABS-CBN News. "Babalik, tapos aalis na naman. Hanggang sa hindi na talaga bumalik. Isinama pa pati mga anak ko."

Photo by Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

According to Arebuabo's younger sister Ria, they expected that his wife will leave him. "Alam niyo naman, karamihan sa mga lalaking na-i-stroke ay iniiwan ng asawa," she said. "Kawawa talaga 'yong kuya ko."

Ria said her brother did all he could to convince his wife to return. He even renovated their house and bought a second-hand television to show her that he could support them. 

"Siya, kahit ano pang masasamang marinig niya tungkol sa asawa niya, talagang gusto niyang mabuo 'yong pamilya niya. Tatlong beses nga niyang sinundan sa Bulacan 'yong asawa niya, pero wala talaga," she said. 

A hardworking provider 

Photo by Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Although Arebuabo was unable to win his wife back, he succeeded in getting custody of their children. 

"Buti na lang iyung mga bata, naibalik sa kanya. Baka kasi kung ano pa ang gawin niya. Baka sila ang maging lakas niya para humaba pa ang buhay niya," Ria said.

Despite his condition, the dedicated father persevered to bring food on the table and support his children's education. Both Rose May and Rose Ann are studying at Jose Corazon De Jesus Elementary School. 

Rose Ann, 8, is in Grade 2, while Rose Mae, 6, is in kindergarten. 

"Mahirap din, minsan napapagod ka. Pero kahit pagod ka, lumaban ka-- kahit ang tulog ko konti lang kasi nagtitinda ako eh," Arebuabo said. 

Photo by Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Arebuabo is one of the beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), a government initiative that provides conditional cash grants to the "poorest of the poor, to improve the health, nutrition, and the education of children." 

Every other month, Arebuabo said he receives P2,200, which he uses to buy school supplies and other needs of his children. 

He also received a stall cart from DSWD, which he turned into a sari-sari store wherein he earns P100 to P200 in a day-- enough to bring meals to the table. 

Photo by Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Everyday, Arebuabo wakes up at 5 a.m. to help his children prepare for school. One afternoon, he decided to bring his kids to a fast-food chain to celebrate Rose Mae's upcoming graduation. 

Both kids ordered their favorite meal, while their father just satisfied his hunger by watching them enjoy the meal. "Hindi na po ako kumain. Makita ko lang na busog sila, okay na ako," he said. 

A father’s love 

Photo by Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Early in his life, Arebuabo learned the meaning of unconditional love. 

Arebuabo's father, now 60, was also alone in providing for his four siblings. His mother died after giving birth to their youngest.
"Sipag at pag-aalaga sa mga anak," Arebuabo said. "Kung paano ako inalagaan ng tatay ko, gano'n din ang ginagawa ko ngayon." 

Arebuabo's father continues to work as a jeepney driver to help out with the family's expenses. In his spare time, he does the laundry for Arebuabo and his two kids. 

"Siya talaga ang idol ko," he said. "Malaki ang sakripisyo niya para sa mga kapatid ko, lalo na sa pamilya ko."

Photo by Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

According to Arebuabo, a father's duty is not just to provide food on the table. He is also tasked to make sure that his children will achieve their dreams. 

"Gusto ko lang makapagtapos sila sa pag-aaral," he said. "Kahit hirap akong magbasa, tinuturuan ko pa rin sila." 

Arebuabo said he wants to prove to his estranged wife and the rest of the world that he can continue being a good father to his children despite being almost incapacitated by stroke. 

Photo by Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Arebuabo also believes that one day, he and his children will rise from the slums.